the lover

She was not classically beautiful. She wore no makeup or jewelery, and had plain features. He had watched her hips widen over the years with each growing bump in her belly; he had also watched her smile widen. He could see the extra skin of her tummy show through her clothes – she had not apologized for her fertility like the women in his real life who walking stiffly with their guts sucked in, or if they could afford it, had it sucked out. Her hair was almost always a different color when he came to see her. He didn’t really know what her real hair color was. In fact, he reminded himself, he did not want to know. Today it had red and blond streaks throughout an auburn-ish base and was woven up with several dyed scarves. He closed his eyes and remembered embracing her – her locks always scented with spices. The perfume varied from day to day with her food she cooked. When her laugh echoed through the restaurant kitchen she smelled of hot peppers. Other days when she was more melancholy – she never hid her moods – her scent deepened with allspice and cumin. He tried to predict what she would be cooking by the expression she wore on her face.

Jack shifted his attention to the woman sitting across from him at the table and smiled – his wife of 20 years. Her lips thinned and became taught when she smiled back. She was talking about things, but he wasn’t really listening. He was looking in her eyes, looking for something that wasn’t there, but long ago had been. She was a good woman but had forgotten she ever had existed. And how could he blame her when it was partially his fault?

He let his thoughts wander back. The showers with her — the other woman — and the scent of garlic and onion sweating from her skin.  There had been so many of them.  And now he comes to this restaurant just to be near her as often as he can, even from a distance.

Jack excused himself to go to the restroom and took the long way so he could walk by the passthrough window that led to the kitchen. There she was, humming a song while she expertly cut the chives.  He stopped and lingered, dispite his wife still being able to see him from the dining room.  She looked up at him, surprised to see him there, and the blade stopped on the cutting board.  “Well, hello there!” she said, her words still sounding like the song she had been singing moments ago.  “Can I help you?”

“No.  Sorry.  I just wanted to say -”

How could he possibly thank her for everything she had done over the years?  For giving him a life again, even if through dream?

“I just wanted to say thank you for everything.”

She looked confused, but still smiled.  “You’re welcome, sir.”  And she went back to cutting the chives.

And he let her go.

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